Story by: Kevin Lambert
Courtesy of kmovielove.com
To say that a film about menstruation would need a female point of view is obvious, but it’s surprising just how important that perspective is in creating a compelling portrait of how politically oblivious public policy around menstruation can be, not just in Kim’s native Korea, but across the globe.
For Vagina’s Sake (the original Korean title, 피의연대기, I’m sure is less awkward) opens with the inception of the film’s main premise: why is there so much mystery (even amongst women) around how to manage a period? We meet Kim’s grandmother and she’s making what seems to be a small pouch. We also meet several guests at a dinner party. The guests are sitting around a table and the conversation turns to tampons. A Dutch guest discusses how she had used tampons for most of her life and she didn’t understand how Korean women could be so reliant on pads. Turns out it is one of several hand-stitched gifts for the party guests: a pretty pouch for sanitary pads.
For some women, the pouch is an oddity. Women might have used tampons for most of their lives. Perhaps, it’s also a question of why it would even be needed; perhaps a purse would be enough, or pockets (if women’s pants had pockets). It could also be a relic of another time, one that begs more questions than it answers.
For Vagina’s Sake takes us on a multi-year journey, through the history of menstruation devices in Korea, as well as the histories of other important devices such as the menstrual cup. Several generations of women in her family become her narrators, giving us truly intimate and touching accounts of their experiences with their periods. In particular, the ways of making, washing, and reusing devices, before the time of pads.
The film makes some trans-continental detours through its story, visiting a young blogger in the U.K., and reporters in the U.S. declaring 2015 “the Year of the Period”.
The film’s playful tone throughout is punctuated by a lovely score and animations that celebrate each interview, even when those faces remain obscured. There are moments where the tone takes a turn for the somber, particularly when it gets political, but even where a tale is a struggle there’s still a strong sense of pride in just letting it all out. Within bounds however, as some things are left unseen. It is still taboo, after all.
Whether it’s a young girl blogging about menstrual cups staring down a slack-jawed, YouTube peanut gallery, or a feminist political candidate running on a platform prioritizing free sanitary pads for women, the conversation around menstruation remains contentious. The patriarchal nature of governments being a particularly dumb beast, the British parliament considered taxing tampons as a “luxury” which resulted in a strong sometimes hilarious response from women across the globe. The politics of the period in Korea presents an opportunity for the film in its second half, creating possibilities for change. A group of students protest for free tampons on campus; at the same time, the companies responsible for producing pads raised their prices. It’s a tone-deaf, rage-inducing move in a country where many poor families struggle with the cost of pads.
The film is an education in the different ways of managing the bleeding. Of particular interest are the sections on reusable and washable pads and menstrual cups. I was a bit surprised at the absence of discussion about surgical options, IUDs and birth control pills. it is understandable given the time needed to explain and delve into each of these, but considering how common they are, it’s a surprise they don’t get more screen time.
For Vagina’s Sake is director Boram Kim’s first documentary film.